“A Little Help From My Friends

…and the kindness of strangers

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m doing my serial careerist thing, moving from working in the law, back to writing.  Although writing new Matt Jacob novels may seem like simply returning to a prior career, I see much of it as something new.

I left writing sixteen years ago, in large part, because my experience with publishing houses drove me out of the writing world.  (Another story, another time.)  That hurt a lot and I wouldn’t have thought about writing books again if it meant duplicating that experience.

But we live in a different time now; all types of communication have gone through revolutionary changes.  And publishing is no exception.  Self-publishing is no longer just the domain of people writing their family history for their grandchildren, or seen that way.  Some people have become bestsellers through their self-published books.  Some bestselling authors have left their publishers to strike out on their own.

I’ve been watching these developments and have created my own plan.  I am digitally re-publishing the first three volumes of the original Matt Jacob series as e-books (the cover for the first one is fantastic!).  Then when I publish the fourth book in the series (which I took when I escaped my publisher), it will come out both as an e-book and a paperback Book On Demand (BOD).  And that is what I will do for all the new books I write for the Matt Jacob series.  These publishing methods allow me to bypass the censorship issues I was forced to battle sixteen years ago.

It’s not just the technological innovations that lure me to write a “new” Jacob series, but in fact, the sixteen years that have passed since writing the fourth novel (TIES THAT BLIND).  Times have changed, I have changed, and I’m really interested to learn how Matt is dealing with his and our social and cultural changes.  I imagine many aspects of his character will remain, but sixteen years certainly adds more than just years to one’s life.

So Matt and his crew will be different.  I can’t say exactly how since writing for me is a discovery process.  But I do know that the prospect of playing with that time difference is really exciting and has captured my interest in a big way.  So much so, that it transforms the series into something that feels like moving forward, not going back.

Which brings me to my request for help.  As mentioned above, before I can begin to write a new Matt Jacob, I’ve been getting the original series ready for digital release.  Building a new website, formatting the originals for the various Ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, Ipad, Downloadable PDFs etc).  If all goes well, STILL AMONG THE LIVING, my first book and a N.Y.Times Notable, should be ready for downloading by the end of October.  In the meantime I’d like to build the distribution list I’ve been using to announce my Monday posts.  Sorry, those ain’t going away despite this new venture.

If you know someone—friends, family, colleagues–who you believe might be interested in my posts and/or book it would be great if you checked with them to see if they’d be willing to be added to my mailing list.  Sorry to ask for that extra step, but I really don’t want to spam anyone.  If they are, please send me—or have them send me—their email address to: zacharykleinonline@gmail.com.

Of course, if any of you are uncomfortable with this request, just ignore it.  You folks have already been kind enough to follow my posts on a regular basis and I don’t want to impose.

This isn’t one of my regular Monday raps, but I appreciate your time and understanding.  Thanks.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Lao Tzu

Memory Flashes Of A Goodbye

(Although the Hinterland trial is finished and I’m back home, I’ve been asked by our lead attorneys to not write publicly about what occurred.  If anyone has questions about what took place, please send them to me at zacharykleinonline@gmail.com.  I will make a good faith effort to answer every one of them as openly as possible.

As I mentioned in my post of 9/4/11, (LABOR DAY IN THE HINTERLAND–09/04/2011), my work with the law has pretty much ended with this last trial.  As I begin to move on though, thoughts about the early years working with Ron dance through my mind.

My very first case, for example, where an elderly widow sued a uranium enrichment plant for withholding medical information about her husband who died from liver cancer caused by the particularly toxic chemical the plant used on a regular basis.

I’ll never forget the widow on the stand, telling about how she and her husband learned the news of his impending death. Weeks earlier the plant offhandedly suggested he check in with his regular doctor (even though the plant’s hospital and doctors had been his regular doctors throughout the 40 years he’d worked there).  He went to a local doctor that he knew, who sent him to another town to see a liver specialist.  The couple decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary dinner by having dinner in the liver specialist’s town so they could pick up the results.

The widow drove home alone that night.  The moment the specialist saw them, he immediately admitted her husband into the hospital.  They never had that year’s anniversary dinner and damn few others.

When she finished testifying there was complete silence; the depth of emotion echoed silently in the courtroom.  The judge adjourned the case for the day.  My heart was heavy as we walked to our car and then I overhead a defense lawyer burst out laughing about her testimony.  Luckily Ron noticed, grabbed me from behind, and pulled me away.  Though I know it made sense given the trial, I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to slam his fat, laughing face.  Well, we lost that case but rather than face a long, drawn out appeal, the defense offered her an extremely generous settlement.  I still have a thank you letter from that widow pinned to my office wall.

Then there was our campaign get the D.C. Metro to pay for houses and apartments they damaged while building three underground subway stations in a poor, Black neighborhood the city wanted to gentrify.  A lot of footwork tracking down people who lived in the community.  Trudging through a drug house to check on individual apartments that might have been damaged.  Then, after going door-to-door sitting on their stoop while they were getting high trying to elicit names and addresses.  Pretty damn crazy.  But we were able to negotiate fixes for all those we did find, and forced the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to create a pool of money for those we didn’t.  The aftermath has been the continuing friendships we’ve maintained with many of the people we met on that mission.

Early on in my connection to the firm, an F.B.I. agent hired us to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against DC’s government.  His wife, also an F.B.I. agent, was assigned to work with the D.C. Cold Case Squad.  Just like the TV show, this unit tries to solve old murders the police are no longer investigating.  Their headquarters were situated in a multi-purpose government building that also housed, for example, their Department of Motor Vehicles, so the building had people traipsing in and out all day long.  One day a man (wanted for murder) strolled into the building with a rifle, took the elevator up to the seventh floor and walked down the hall looking for the Homicide offices.  He mistakenly ended up in Cold Case, where he proceeded to shoot everyone in sight.  Our client’s wife was able to wound the assailant, but died in the conflict.

Now there’s this thing in the law called Sovereign Immunity, which basically means you can’t sue the government because of governmental policies.  So, for example, if you’re mugged on the street corner, you can’t sue the city for not having a cop on that corner.  Their response would simply be: our policies don’t include having police in that particular location.  However, you can overcome Sovereign Immunity if you can prove the city violated its own policies.  So, in the example above, if it had been the city’s policy to have a policeman on that particular corner at that particular time and the policeman somehow failed to do his duty, i.e. protect you from the mugging, or simply wasn’t there, then a lawsuit against the city is permissible.  (Lawyers out there, feel free to correct me if my explanation is either inadequate or inaccurate.)

The judge refused to hear the case claiming the city was protected by Sovereign Immunity.  After a long arduous appeals process, we finally got the green light.  Turns out that the City had a written policy in place that everyone walking in and out of that building was to be machine-screened or hand-wanded.  A policy that had long been neglected (this was pre-9/1/1) and the day our client’s wife was killed was no different.

And so the trial ensued.  I spent time developing juror profiles—a composite of the type person we most wanted on the jury and also of those who we didn’t want.  I wrote a series of questions (voir dire) designed to elicit information to identify people we were interested in and prepped the plaintiff and other witnesses for their testimony about that day in the Squad.  The trial began and then, from my spectator seat, I noticed a bulge in our client’s suitcoat.  During the next break I asked him about it and was shown the gun that the F.B.I. issues to all their agents.  The last thing in the world I wanted this jury to see was our client was packing—legal or not.  We had an intense argument in the bathroom about his carrying it from the next day on.  He accused me of being an anti-gun phobic, but then finally conceded that the jury probably wouldn’t like it either.  He stopped wearing it to court.

We won the case going away; and although money is never, ever a real compensation for a beloved wife, our client was awarded a substantial amount.  That night in the hotel “war room,” I finally put on my earrings that I’d taken off for the trial.  Our client came over and said, “Never in a million years could I have imagined liking, even being a friend with someone like you.”  My response was just as direct: “Never in a million years could I have imagined liking, even being a friend with someone likeyou.”  And we both broke out laughing.

Years later he sent Sue and me airplane tickets to Chicago, so we could attend his remarriage.  It was a lovely affair attended by lots of men with bulges in their suitcoats.

These have been just a few of the early memories that I have about my time working with Ron.  I have no doubt there will be more posts to come with other memories about different times and cases.  Feeling like you’ve done some good in the world stays with you.  Sixteen years is a long time and saying goodbye is difficult.

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live~Flora Whittemore

Tea-Bagging Does Not A Party Make (Again)

Since I’m drowning in work this week I’ve decided it’s okay to republish one of my earlier posts. (Y’all were warned this might happen.  From this page to god’s ear I’ll be home in time to write a fresh post for next week.)  After reviewing what I’ve written since I began my website, I chose this piece.  Partially because Rick Perry’s rocket to the top of the Republican’s list of presidential candidates and partially the numbers that show President Obama’s favorability ratings in the dumpster.  But more importantly, it touches on themes I want to write about in the future.  That is, the necessity of Progressives to stop talking to each other and start thinking about ways to reach across the divide.  So, for your reading pleasure-or displeasure–the following:

There are plenty of labels people hang on the Tea Party:  patriots, idiots, people who want to stop the insanity, people who are insane, rednecks, and racists, just for starters.  Then there was an anonymous comment I read online: “Tea Party is just a nice way of saying KKK.”

Would that it were so simple. The KKK made no bones about their public hatred of Blacks.  They were founded and acted on tenets of white supremacy, and weren’t the least bit shy about using terrorism to make their beliefs crystal clear.

Obviously the Tea Party hasn’t jumped into lynchings.  But from where I sit, its brand of racism is, in some ways, far more insidious because Tea Party followers are unable (or unwilling) to perceive that much of the underpinnings of their philosophy is indeed racist. That is, their demands to obliterate safety nets that have been in place since Roosevelt and Johnson in the name of small government–non progressive tax programs (flat tax), limitations on growth in federal spending, etc–would result in worsening the already lousy living conditions for countless people of color and the poor of every hue.  The TPers’ obliviousness, their refusal to even acknowledge the logical consequences of their programs and philosophy, trades racist rhetoric for racist policy results, real lynchings for slowly twisting in the wind.

Worse, The Tea Party movement is a natural outgrowth of our domestic policies and ideologies.  And Progressives miss the point when they froth at the mouth about the Palins, Rands, and Bachmans–as foolish and detestable as their thinking might be.  The Tea Party is simply a naked distillation of historical and modern political thinking about race, poverty, taxes, and government.


It’s not surprising the TPers have landed where they are.  How many decades have Republicans and “New Democrats” objected to Affirmative Action, citing time after time that we now live in a country that has a “level playing field.”  Or, both parties raising the specter of Welfare Queens, which conjures up big Black women living high on the hog without a care in the world.

This wasn’t begun by TPers but from the Reagan Revolution that Bill Clinton did nothing to stop or undo.  In fact, he encouraged the myths through his program “to end welfare as we know it.” (Which in reality meant a huge jump in the prison population of women between the ages of 18-25 for non-violent crimes.  With or without welfare, people need to survive).  And if Democrats are honest about it, Clinton was more than willing to suspend civil liberties to invade Cabrini Green, a non-white housing project in Chicago.

So please let’s drop the pretense that somehow the TPers are more racist than traditional politicians who, in the face of institutional and individual racism, call our society’s opportunities equal for all.  If anything, the TPers are more sincere in their mistaken beliefs than the regular pols, who actually know the truth but pander to the make-believe for political gain.


Ahh, taxes.  Another Tea Party inheritance.  Prop This, Prop That, and trickle-down economics have been a mainstay of the Republican Party and, in their own way, post Reagan Democrats who act as if taxes have no relationship whatsoever to the betterment of people’s lives.  I’m not suggesting there isn’t government waste.  And I certainly have no truck with where a significant portion of our taxes go.  But to eviscerate the idea of taxes, to turn the word into an obscenity has its roots much farther back than the TPers, who have come by this “no taxes” mantra via decades of politically professed hatred of government.

But leaving aside the TPers most reactionary agendas, there are aspects of their movement that parallel Progressive thought.  The social libertarianism to drive government out of our bedrooms is something Progressives have always desired.  And let’s not discount the TP’s beliefs about our foreign interventions–something with which Progressives often agree.

I believe Progressives need to champion the belief that government has the potential to enhance people’s lives.  That government is a social compact between all that live here and the definition of that compact needs relentless work.  Something Progressives haven’t done effectively for decades.  We seemed to take too many of our truths for granted, above discussion with those with whom we disagree.  But we were the only ones who stopped talking, stopped acting and look what’s happened with issues like a woman’s right to choose, institutional racism, social responsibility–hell, even evolution.  We need to recapture lost ground–ground that has allowed the TPers to plant their flag.

We need to trumpet that race is not irrelevant, that poverty exists beyond most American’s wildest dreams, and that it exists because of our social structure, not because of an individual’s own doing.  We need to fight about how taxes are spent, notwhether they should exist.

Our lack of organization, our inability to reach out and connect with people who don’t share our beliefs, our preference to react rather than act, our waste of time, ad homonym name calling, and especially our blindness to the real effects of the Reagan Revolution helped create space for the Tea Party.

As much as I hate to say it, most of them are pretty sincere in what they believe.  And getting rid of their political ideology is gonna be much more difficult than comparing them to the KKK or deriding their “stupidity” and “ignorance.”

We live in a political and cultural crossfire.  Some call it Red versus Blue.  Some call it North versus South.  Some call it Conservative versus Liberal.

I call it Truth versus Myth.  Our war isn’t against the Tea Party, but against the propagation of the myths that have infected our entire society–for it is these myths which aided and abetted the Tea Party’s creation.

Addendum From Hinterland

Life sometimes throws curves.  People sometime throw curves.  Tonight it’s my turn.

As those of you who follow my posts know, I had planned to write regularly about the trial I’m working on from the front line.  That is, while it was happening.

Well, for a variety of reasons I’m not.  Instead, I plan to take copious notes since the trial began today, (no settlement) and when I return home will decide whether to write a day-to-day account or a detailed summary of the trial and my time out here.

In fact, given the amount of work, I’m not even sure I’ll publish my regular Monday post–though I’ll give it my best shot. (Can a writer publish a rerun?)

Anyway, I apologize for not following through on what I promised, but right now my priority has changed.

Hang in with me friends.  There will be many more interesting posts in the coming months and years.  And thank you for your understanding.

Labor Day In The Hinterland

Means another long work day for the trial team.  I won’t bore you with the details of traveling out here other than to say that waiting an hour for your luggage to pop up on the carousel causes heart palpations when your final destination is two hours away.  I couldn’t even figure out a fix.  Thankfully, after that hour any fix was unneeded.  The conveyor belt had broken.

A little background.  After this trial my career in civil law will be basically finished.  I’ll continue to do focus groups when asked, will do jury selections, and will work with my friend, a court appointed criminal defense attorney in Boston, but I’m pretty done with the nuts and bolts of trial consultation on civil cases—though I’ll always be proud of my soul brother lawyer, Ron, who I’ve worked for and his unending commitment to those who have been screwed by major corporations and institutions who don’t have a second thought about buggering people in the pursuit of profit.

But I’m a writer.  Despite my heartfelt political values which are dear and clear, once I discovered it was possible to publish my work without dealing with traditional publishing houses, the invitation to return to that which who I am became a temptation too sweet to ignore at my age–despite the long, long odds of going viral.  Sometimes you just got to push all the chips into the middle of the table.

Will I succeed in actually earning a living by going this route?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Am I able to write as well as I did when my first book was a “New York Times Notable”—I don’t know that either.  It’s been 16, 17 years and those years have created a different me.  But that’s part of the challenge and temptation.  And why I’m continuing the Matt Jacob series because I want to discover the differences in who I am.

But I’m not there yet.  Right now I’m eyeball deep in our court case which is about a 30 year old woman who worked at a hospital as a nurse and every one of her heart attack symptoms she presented on a particular day was blown off by the admitting doctor (who was a friend and colleague so you can imagine how difficult it was for her to even contemplate a lawsuit) and the hospital for which she worked.  This was a woman to whom they turned a blind eye to classic heart attack symptoms (shoulder pain, back pain, jaw pain, vomiting, and the overwhelming feeling that she was dying) because she was “too young” and had, in the recent past, G.I. issues.  Rather than checking for a heart attack, an easy do, the doctor, despite his own notes which suggested potential cardiac issues, let her lay in the hospital for nine and a half hours before they eventested for an attack.  This, despite their inability to find any GI issues for which they tested.

I’ve come to learn the term “differential diagnosis” means when a doctor sees a patient and listens to their symptoms they are bound to check first for anything that might be, in any way, life threatening.  The admitting nurse documented “shoulder pain, back pain, jaw pain.  Classic heart attack signs and symptoms that were obviously ignored.

Now this is bad enough.  But the truth is, the actual reality is even worse.  This is a woman who has had liver disease since she was ten years old and the doctor and hospital knew it.  Also, a woman who had a significant history of familial heart problems which the admitting doctor knew, noted, and simply ignored.

Negligence seems pretty cut and dry?  (Even the judge in a meeting with our lawyers said, “hell, even a gynecologist would have recognized her symptoms.”)

Settle and be done, right?.  Not here.  The defense has decided to play the “rape card.”  You got raped?  Well, you must have invited it.  Here it’s not much less subtle.  Here it’s “you were a nurse, why didn’t you tell the doctor you were having a heart attack when you called him?  (She called him when she was vomiting out of her car in a parking lot on the way to work and he told her to bypass the E.R. and he’d admit her directly to the hospital though he says he told her to go to the E.R. but he never took her to the E.R. when she arrived at the hospital nor did he ever record that he told her that in his notes.  Both of which heshould have done if he’d actually told her to go there.)  “you’re a nurse, why didn’t you know you were having a heart attack?” “Why didn’t you diagnose what you had and tell the doctor you were having a heart attack as opposed to just the symptoms?”

This shit makes me crazy.  I understand and accept human errors.  We all make ’em.  But this really is a medical rape defense.  The woman was upchucking out the window of her car, had explosive diarrhea that drove her into a department store, pain that  was the worst she’d ever felt in her life, thought she was dying, and their defense says she should have done her own diagnosis.

What the fuck am I missing here?

That kind of bullshit just doesn’t pass the sniff test.  It was precisely because she was going through that extreme trauma that she called her “friend” the doctor that she knew was the hospitalist on duty at that time.

I’m angry enough to keep on venting for pages but what’s truly painful is the knowledgethat the defense is safely betting a trial will go in their favor because of our geographic location.  The hospital is one of the largest employers in the area.  They have their hands in virtually every pie in the county, and are secure in the knowledge that the largest award ever given in a lawsuit was a million dollars and that award was given to a corporation.

Today I met with our client who is on five days a week dialysis (we are not asking for any money for her kidney condition, only the damage that the heart attack created and added to her compromised body.  Not insignificant, since the delay in treatment of her heart blockage resulted in multiple transfusions which raised her antibodies which now has made a kidney transplantunlikely.)

Enough background.  It’s late, I’m exhausted, and if my writing is less than the quality you have come to expect I apologize. This has become an emotional experience for me and I’m caring more about my client and justice—hell, decency, than wordsmithing.

The judge has demanded that all party’s show up at the courtroom on Tuesday to try, once again, to reach a settlement.  I’m not optimistic but will let you know what happens.  And again, please excuse the quality of my prose.  After spending the day and night with our client then her mother and stepfather I’m tired and terribly sad.

More to come.

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” – George Woodbury